A National Treasure
Gillette Castle – completed in 1919 as the home of one of the most
celebrated stage and film actors of the early 20th century – is a
national treasure, a jewel in the park and forest system of the State
Purchased by the State in 1943,
the castle attracts some 200,000 people
every year. As a public resource of history and beauty, the park's 184
acres increasingly provide the setting for memorable celebrations with
family and friends.
The castle is a fitting centerpiece for the green valley of the lower
Connecticut river, itself designated a “Last Great Place” by The Nature
Conservancy. The castle has been recently renovated and restored to
preserve its heritage for generations to come.
In addition to important work on the castle which was completed in
2002, the project included a new and striking center for individual
visitors, families, and organizations. The center opened in May 2003;
it features a small auditorium, gift shop, exhibit area, and
special-events plaza. Stop in and tour!
Volunteers are essential in the
operation of the park’s gift shop,
which is operated by the Friends of Gillete Castle tate Park. The
Friends also plan special events, assist with gardening and trail
maintenance, and host visitor groups.
This corps of volunteers is
dedicated to preserving the castle’s
heritage—and to providing you with an enjoyable experience as you
stroll its paths or examine its unique architecture from many
picture-perfect vantage points.
Originated in 1998, the Friends of Gillette Castle is a nonprofit,
all-volunteer group which raises funds to help restore the grounds for
the benefit of all. We invite you to join and support us whether you
live nearby or far away.
Here are a few "fun facts" which may
help you enjoy the park experience: William Gillette (1853-1937)
was a stage and screen “superstar” who created the role of master
detective Sherlock Holmes.
Mr. Gillette starred in thousands of
productions; wrote 13 original plays and dozens of adaptations; last
appeared on stage May 12, 1932; had 17 cats; had a yacht named Aunt
Polly; had a caretaker, Osaki, who lived in a house which still stands
on the riverbank; was the son of a U.S. Senator and a prominent
Hartford socialite; and received honorary doctorate degrees from Yale,
Dartmouth, Trinity, and Columbia.
The castle building is 200 feet above
the river and is made of local granite fieldstone covering steel beams.
It was designed by Gillette himself. The 184-acre grounds overlook the
Connecticut River and the 250-year-old Hadlyme Ferry.
Mr. Gillette's railroad was called the
Seventh Sister Short-Line and had a steam and an electric engine that
could carry 28 passengers over 3.2 miles of track, bridges, and
trestles, and through a tunnel. Many original trackways are now hiking
THE SEVENTH SISTER…
THE EAST HADDAM HOME OF WILLIAM GILLETTE
The bank of the Connecticut River in East Haddam is defined by a chain
of seven forested hills known as the Seven Sisters.
William Hooker Gillette chose to
design and build his
“castle,” formally known as the Seventh Sister, on the peak of the
southernmost of those hills overlooking the historic landing of the
ferry from Hadlyme to Chester and surveying a broad sweep of the river
as it widens near Long Island Sound. The 24-room mansion is built in
the Arts and Crafts style, reminiscent of a medieval fortress on the
Rhine River. The estate's 184-acre natural surroundings are laced with
pathways ideal for an easy walk with family and friends.
The castle was built to very
modern standards for the years
1914-1919: it took 20 men five years to assemble its steel framework
and nest thousands of tons of local fieldstone in its walls, and
hand-hew the interior woodwork from solid white oak. Gillette himself
did most of the design and drafting, incorporating ingenious design
tricks which undoubtedly reflected his stage days. The 47 doors – no
two identical – sliding table, built-in couches, clever locks, numerous
interior windows, and other curious details are hallmarks of this
playful, theatric creativity.
The expansive grounds were also
touched by his imagination.
He had a fascination with railroads and operated a miniature train with
some three miles of track laid throughout the woodland and granite
ledges. Indeed, he delighted in playing the “engineer” of his steam and
electric engines for distinguished guests from around the world. The
Seventh Sister Short-Line railway once had trestles, bridges, a tunnel,
and a Grand Central Station — adorned with two sculptures of cats,
among the 60 cat images in and around the estate.
Join us as we appreciate Mr.
Gillette’s eccentric, cheerful
genius, and share it with others who visit his home!
© Copyright 2010 Friends of Gillette Castle